Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Mead

I seriously doubt that the Harry Potter series will end with Harry and Ron in rehab, but the latest book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sure does have its share of alcoholic spirits flowing freely through the pages.
Now for the average young reader of the book, the amount of booze in the book will probably take a back seat to the use of the word slut in the book. Now the use of a semi-bad word in a children's classic is nothing new. Twenty-five years later, I still remember that the word "ass" is firmly located on page 61 of the Wind in the Willows. Other than that memory, I remember that I really liked the book and that there was a frog or something in it. Just goes to show the power naughty words have on young minds, and I'm sure that the younger Potter fans will get just as much of a feeling of sneaking into the adult world from the use of slut as me and my friends got from finding the word ass in a teacher-approved children's classic a quarter of a century ago.

But it was not my intention to get bogged down with talk of sluts.

Beyond the titillation of a single word lies another issue that wouldn't necessarily seem tailor-made for a supposed children's book (even if it as one enjoyed by just as many adults as youngsters). Namely, there's enough alcohol mentioned in the Half-Blood Prince to make Hemingway proud.

Dumbledore especially seems fond of knocking back a drink or two. When he appears at the Dursley's house early in the book, he conjures forth a bottle of mead. Soon after, when Harry and Dumbledore visit Slughorn for the first time, Dumbledore invites Slughorn to have a drink with him. Later in the book, Slughorn and Hagrid will knock back more than a few at Hagrid's cabin, giving Harry the opening he needs to secure Slughorn's crucial memory. The only new addition to Dumbledore's office, which JK Rowling has described numerous times, seems to be an open bottle of wine on his desk.

And the drinking isn't confined to the adults, either. While the concept of "snogging" has been around for the past several books, the Half-Blood Prince is the first book where Harry and crew imbibe something stronger than butterbeer. One of those times, Ron gets sick after drinking a poisonous bottle of mead meant to do-in Dumbledore. I suppose you could interpret this as symbolizing the dangers of underage drinking, but this ignores the fact that earlier at the Weasleys, everybody enjoys some mead before making the trip back to Hogwarts and no one suffers any ill effects.

So what's Rowling up to with all of this drinking? Is it an attempt to make the stories seem more grown-up, much like the addition of teenage hormones a couple of books back? Or is it just an extension of the more enlightened European view of younger people drinking where children grow up in households where they are introduced to supervised social drinking in moderation?

It will be interesting to see if any of the uptight critics who attacked the Potter books for its witchcraft and sorcery (hi there, Pope Benedict) will take up a call for prohibition in children's literature. I suspect the fact that Rowling has the young wizards partaking in mead for the most part (a very delicious but not readily available honey-fermented drink) will keep many of thetippling-wizard critics at bay.

Of course, if the last book has Harry and Ron splitting a six-pack of Old Milwaukees and lighting up Marlboros, it could be a different story.


Blogger Keith said...

I had a Goblet of Mead once, but my dad pawned it to support his drinking habit.

My priest said I was going to Hell for my blog. What do YOU think?

9:45 PM  

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